Detroit Lions film review: Late-game errors go beyond rushing 3 on fourth-and-19

Detroit Free Press

Dan Campbell called a timeout just before a key fourth-and-19 play in the Detroit Lions’ 19-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday hoping to bring some serenity to his defense.

“What I was hoping to gain was to get everybody settled and get everybody on the same page, and we did,” Campbell explained Monday. “We had everybody on the same page but one person. And it hurt us. It hurt us.”

Lamar Jackson converted that fourth-and-19 with a 36-yard pass to Sammy Watkins, and the Ravens capped an incredible comeback three plays later when Justin Tucker made an NFL-record 66-yard field goal. Tucker’s kick sent the Lions to their third straight defeat and brought extra scrutiny on a handful of Campbell’s late-game coaching decisions.

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For this week’s film review, I rewatched the final two minutes of the Lions-Ravens game to see how and why things went wrong for the Lions. The NFL did not post all-22 film on its Game Pass site, so it was impossible to get a full picture of the fourth-and-19 play.

But the Lions, as was the case most of Sunday, made several mistakes in the final 11 plays that doomed their chances of victory.

Run, run, run

The Lions, trailing 16-14, were in prime position to pull the upset with 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter, when they had a first-and-10 at the Baltimore 14-yard line.

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Campbell followed standard coaching protocol trying to get Baltimore to burn its final two timeouts and ran the ball on the first two plays after the two-minute warning.

The Lions gained a total of 1 yard on those plays, both because the Ravens loaded the box in anticipation of runs and because of their own malfeasance.

D’Andre Swift ran for no gain on a first-and-10 play that had little chance of succeeding. Swift took a shotgun handoff from Jared Goff and started left, looking for room behind three receivers bunched in a trips formation.

The Ravens countered with eight defenders in the box, and Pernell McPhee came unblocked through the strong side of the line to meet Swift in the backfield almost as soon as he got the ball.

On second-and-10, facing a nine-man box and behind a more run-heavy formation that included a second tight end (Darren Fells) and fullback Jason Cabinda, the Lions missed an opportunity to put the game away with a good-sized run.

Center Frank Ragnow stepped on Goff’s foot as he pulled to his right after the snap, and Goff stumbled as he handed the ball to Jamaal Williams. Off balance, Ragnow could not kick out to what appeared to be his assignment, a second-level block, and was taken out of the play by Calais Campbell.

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Campbell’s pressure forced Williams off his rushing line, and with no Ragnow by his side, T.J. Hockenson, who was attached to the right side of the formation, was caught in between two Ravens defenders and chose to block neither. Those defenders, Chuck Clark and Tyus Bowser, stuffed Williams for a short gain.

On third-and-9, the Lions called another running play that was stymied almost as soon as it began. Halapoulivaati Vaitai couldn’t reach a blitzing Clark from his right guard position, and defensive tackle Broderick Washington shot through the hole Vaitai left behind. Vaitai knocked Clark into a pulling Hockenson, and Washington and Brandon Stephens buried Williams for a 4-yard loss.

Had their second-down rush succeeded, it’s possible the Lions would have been more aggressive on third-and-short. As it was, Dan Campbell said he had no regrets about calling a third straight run on third down.

“I’ve said this before, I feel like you have to take each game as it comes,” Campbell said. “And I loved where our defense was at, I loved the way they were playing and I haven’t wanted to — man, I wanted to put it in their hands. I felt like we were going to shut them down. … We knew we’d get the field goal. I wanted to drain their timeouts and make him beat us with his arm. And look, he did that. The odds say he doesn’t and we didn’t make the play, they did, kudos to him. And they made the kick. But no, I don’t second-guess it.”

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Rushing three

The Ravens got the ball back, down 17-16, with 1:04 to play at their own 25-yard line and immediately encountered trouble from the Lions pass rush.

Charles Harris sacked Jackson on first-and-10, closing in on the Ravens quarterback from behind as he stepped up in the pocket to avoid a Romeo Okwara rush.

Jackson threw incomplete on second-and-13, when Julian Okwara hit him as he threw. Okwara, rushing from a standup position at left defensive tackle, overpowered right guard Kevin Zeitler with a two-hand shove to the chest, and Bobby Price met receiver Devin Duvernay at the 35-yard-line just as the ball arrived to break up Jackson’s pass.

The Lions nearly put the game away on third down, when Julian Okwara beat Zeitler with another pass rush but could not haul Jackson down for a sack that would have kept the clock running and put the Ravens in scramble mode on fourth-and-long.

Jackson ducked out of Julian Okwara’s grasp and escaped toward the sideline, where Romeo Okwara forced him out of bounds with 26 seconds on the clock.

On fourth-and-19, the Ravens lined up with Duvernay and James Proche split wide left, Sammy Watkins wide right, Ty’Son Williams in the backfield and tight end Mark Andrews attached to the left side of the line. Campbell called his final timeout with 18 seconds on the play clock.

Jackson told reporters after the game the timeout was welcome.

“I was happy for that timeout,” he said. “We needed a little breather, our linemen needed a little breather. The crowd went to rocking. I don’t know where the crowd came from. We wasn’t hearing it all game and they just came out of nowhere.”

When play resumed, the Ravens lined up in essentially the same formation — Jackson motioned Williams, who was not needed for pass protection, to a slot position against the Lions’ three-man front —while the Lions appear to have tweaked their approach.

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The Lions deployed three linemen both before and after the timeout (Romeo Okwara, Nick Williams and Austin Bryant) but came out of the break with an apparent spy on Jackson, defensive back Jerry Jacobs.

None of Okwara, Bryant or Williams got any pressure on Jackson after the snap, which gave Watkins enough time to run an over route that left him wide open 29 yards downfield, well beyond the first down marker and just on the edge of field goal range.

Campbell indicated one defensive back botched his assignment on the play, likely young cornerback Bobby Price, a converted safety who was matched in off-man coverage on Watkins at the line of scrimmage. Will Harris, who tackled Watkins at the 48-yard line, appeared to be playing zone coverage underneath the route.

As for the decision to rush three players, Jackson said he was “definitely surprised” by the strategy considering how well the Lions had pressured him on previous downs, while Campbell defended the call.

“The call I thought was fine, it was just the way we played the call,” Campbell said. “Communication errors.”

Julian Okwara agreed, saying once those communication errors get cleaned up, the Lions will start winning games.

“I think from the media’s eyes or from the outside perspective, you can see they were in max (protection) and obviously fourth-and-19 you got to get the ball down the field,” Okwara said. “I mean, we just got to do our job and I think (with better) communication in the back end, things will be all right. But no, I’m not surprised (at the call). I think anybody who watches football, they’d do the same thing they would have done, too. I think it was a great decision to rush three on that play.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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